I was considering giving up this reviewing gig, finding myself a bit weary having written several hundred mag reviews over the last few years. But then this issue of Center landed in my lap and I shudder to think at what I would miss! With its “Symposium: Place in Nonfiction,” this is one terrific issue. One personal essay on a place of sorts (gardens) and 10 short essays for the Symposium, are accompanied by the work of 20 poets (in which, unannounced as part of the place focus, place figures largely in nearly every one), three stories (place again in every one!), and a very, very good “conversation” with Croatian poet Tomaz Salamun, an interview of greater depth than many I’ve encountered that focus narrowly on writing techniques and related topics of limited interest.
Donna Steiner’s, “Growing Season,” a smart essay on gardening (“What does it mean to love what is potentially beautiful but lose interest when that beauty fails to flourish?”) is followed by wonderful short essays, each one quite different from the others, that consider the relationship between landscape and narrative (Sarah Messer); place and memory (Joe Bonomo): writers and rivers (Leslie Staton); place and writing about home (Huan Hsu); place as context in writing (Lynn Z. Bloom); place and genre (Susannah B. Mintz); and place and travel in writing (William Bradley). These are original essays interesting for their perspective on the place of place in nonfiction writing, and interesting as examples of nonfiction writing.
Poems about place also reflect a diversity of styles, tones, and forms. Most unusual is Amy Newman’s contribution, two letters (allegedly to the editors of this journal) that explicate poems (which never appear) and, in essence, create meta-poems to stand in for the imaginary poems. The invisible poems’ setting is the “frosted landscape” of the Finger Lakes Region of New York. Mary Biddinger’s “O Holy Insurgency” reminds us that place is as much a philosophical or emotional experience as a physical one: “Every day in its place.”
Fiction contributions include an inventive, unconventional story by Matthew Kirkpatrick, “Pastoral” and solid stories by Marjorie McAtee (“Down and Out in Eau Claire, Wisconsin”) and “Countries Like That” by William Kelley Wolfitt.
I typically fold down the upper right hand corner of the pages of journals I’m reviewing to mark the places I want to remember to cite. Every single page of this issue of Center is now folded over on itself.